Intensive fundraising and support for Waikanae gym coach Tara Fitzgerald from her community to get her to school in Denmark played an influential role in her decision to stay overseas during the coronavirus pandemic.

Raising money last year with quiz nights, movie nights and additional support from people in the Kāpiti and gymnastics communities, Tara headed off to Ollerup International Academy in Denmark to gain experience, skills and knowledge of how to become a better gymnast, coach and leader in a voluntary organisation.

"Leading up to my trip, my gymnastics club and our community worked really hard to help me fundraise to get here and it is extremely important to me that I get as much from this experience as possible that I can bring home and share as planned."

Tara Fitgerald and Teresa Iaccarino practising their handstands in lockdown at Ollerup International Academy in Denmark.
Tara Fitgerald and Teresa Iaccarino practising their handstands in lockdown at Ollerup International Academy in Denmark.

Heading into lockdown in early March, almost a month before New Zealand, the school shut down and all Nordic students returned home along with international students from other European countries.

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"We were advised to come home by the New Zealand government as it was unsure if flights were going to be available for much longer, but the school said they would always allow us to stay if we wanted to be here and could not get home."

For Tara this meant a tough decision as her visa was valid until the end of the year and she also had other options for accommodation in Denmark if her schooling plans failed.

"There were several times that I wanted to come home and it was a very hard decision but I chose to stay here because being there was still a possibility that the school was going to open and would mean I could get some of the experience that I came for."

Her goal was to gain experience that she could bring back to the Waikanae Gymnastics Club, TeamGym in New Zealand and present courses for gymnastics in New Zealand, based on her new knowledge and experiences.

Tara Fitzgerald (third from left) and other international students trying their hand at new skills while in lockdown in Denmark.
Tara Fitzgerald (third from left) and other international students trying their hand at new skills while in lockdown in Denmark.

Deciding to stay during lockdown proved a good decision as the school has offered Tara a scholarship for next trimester, meaning she can re-do the semester.

"We have been lucky the school has been so accommodating of its international students as 26 of us have stayed here for the whole time.

"Most schools similar to ours sent their students home so we are extremely grateful to be here still."

With all classes cancelled the students have made the most of having freedom to use the school's facilities and have kept themselves busy by trying many different activities learning skills by running classes and events for each other such as archery, dancing, crafts, tree climbing and cooking.

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"We have really focused on enjoying the facilities that we have been so lucky to have available to us, unlike the rest of the country.

"The best part by far is being able to form such close bonds with the teachers and students from all corners of the world including Argentina, Brazil, Australia, Portugal, Japan, Korea, Estonia, Switzerland and Zimbabwe."

Making the lockdown easier is having fellow Kiwi Teresa Iaccarino who is also at the academy on a Gymnastics New Zealand scholarship.

"It has been really nice having someone here from home as we have had the same worries and concerns as each other and we come from the same background which is comforting to have around in such a stressful time.

"We kept each other accountable with training as well as having fun and I really believe that we made the most of this time together, keeping positive and motivating each other."